Is Apple’s New Vision Pro Going To Be A Privacy Nightmare? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Apple’s Vision Pro headset launches in the U.S. today (February 2), costing an eye-watering $3,499. Many Apple fans will think the hefty price is worth it—after all, the firm’s CEO Tim Cook is convinced the iPhone maker’s device is going to change the world.

“The era of spatial computing has arrived,” Cook said when announcing the Vision Pro. “Apple Vision Pro is the most advanced consumer electronics device ever created. Its revolutionary and magical user interface will redefine how we connect, create, and explore.”

But privacy-conscious Apple users might be more cautious, with many worried about how their data will be collected and shared with third parties. And the privacy implications of the Vision Pro are even more wide-reaching, tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler writes in the Washington Post.

He calls the Vision Pro “a privacy mess waiting to happen,” because while Apple has put safeguards in place, there are questions about how the new device will work in practice.

What is Vision Pro?

If you are only just hearing about the Vision Pro, it’s Apple’s answer to a mixed reality headset. Apple describes the Vision Pro as “a revolutionary spatial computer” that “transforms how people work, collaborate, connect, relive memories, and enjoy entertainment.”

The Vision Pro does this by blending digital content with the physical world. You can get involved in “powerful spatial experiences” via its operating system, visionOS, controlled by your eyes, hands and voice. It’s also launched with all-new App Store with access to more than 1 million compatible apps across iOS and iPadOS.

You can “interact with apps by simply looking at them” and tap your fingers to select, flick your wrist to scroll and use a virtual keyboard or dictation to type.

Why Is The Apple Vision Pro A Privacy Risk?

While it comes with many cool features, the Vision Pro could also be a privacy risk.

Fowler writes:

“Imagine you’re in a waiting room, and someone sits next to you with four iPhones strapped to their forehead. You might swiftly relocate.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening when someone straps on Apple’s new Vision Pro headset. Each of these goggles contains the rough equivalent to a head full of iPhones: 2 depth sensors, 6 microphones and 12 cameras.

“It uses them to continuously track people and rooms in three dimensions — every hand gesture, eyeball flick and couch cushion… [T]his device collects more data than any other personal device I’ve ever seen.”

Fowler highlights concerns brought up by privacy researchers:

“Who gets to access the maps these devices build of our homes and data about how we move our bodies? A Vision Pro could reveal much more than you realize… you’ve got a 75-inch television, suggesting you might have more money to spend than someone with a 42-inch set.

“Since the device can understand objects, it could also detect if you’ve got a crib or a wheelchair or even drug paraphernalia. Advertisers and data brokers who build profiles of consumers would salivate at the chance to get this data. Governments, too.”

What’s Apple Doing To Protect Privacy On The Vision Pro?

It’s a scary warning, so what steps are being taken by Apple to restrict data collected by the Vision Pro? Thankfully, there are many, including safeguarding information such as what people’s eyes are looking at. There is also an indicator on the front screen which shows when it’s recording—allowing you to jump out of the way if you see someone with a device coming in your direction.

Eye tracking information isn’t shared with Apple, third party apps, or websites. This means app makers can’t access the camera to capture photos and videos, so they can’t run facial recognition on people.

FaceTime conversations are end-to-end encrypted by default, which means no one can access them, even Apple or the government.

Apple says on its developer website:

“To protect user privacy, the system handles camera and sensor inputs without passing the information to apps directly. Instead, the system enables your app to seamlessly interact with a user’s surroundings and to automatically receive input from the user. For example, the system handles the eye- and hand-position data needed to detect interactions with your app’s content. Similarly, the system provides a way to automatically alter a view’s appearance when someone looks at it, without your app ever knowing what the user is looking at.

“In the few cases where you actually need access to hand position or information about the user’s surroundings, the system requires you to obtain authorization from the user first.”

It’s also important to point out that, as even Fowler admits, his concerns are speculative. Apple is pretty active in the privacy space and the iPhone maker will always want to protect its brand.

Apple has been approached for comment and I will update this article if the firm provides a statement.

Apple Vision Pro—A Privacy Nightmare?

You might be thinking about buying the Vision Pro, now or in the future. So is it really a privacy nightmare like Fowler says?

The first thing to consider is, it’s new technology and the risks are likely to materialise as the device is used. Fowler, like everyone else, can only guess at what could happen, in theory.

In general, everyone should be wary of new data-collecting devices. “It is packed with sensors, cameras and microphones so could be a nightmare to control in terms of privacy,” says Jake Moore, global cybersecurity advisor at ESET. He says there’s the potential for “a magnitude of information which can be monitored and analysed from using this device.”

There are of course security risks to consider too—cyber criminals will be looking for holes to exploit in Apple’s Vision Pro. But it’s also worth noting that Apple is keeping on top of security updates, with the first patch for the Vision Pro already available, even before it was launched.

The bottom line is, if you really want to buy the Vision Pro at launch, do so with caution—as you should when purchasing any new type of tech. Safeguards are in place, but it’s worth considering when and where you use it, ensuring you are careful to read the privacy policy before you use it.


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